Comment: Exporting at cost

By: Patrick Cox, Photography by: Patrick Cox

The legally sanctioned methyl bromide is a lethal gas that's not only dangerous to people but apparently also responsible for reducing the ozone layer

Methyl bromide

It was brought to my attention that India and China require the fumigation of logs before export. This was not really a secret, as we have all seen the tarps covering big stacks of logs at the ports around New Zealand. The dirty secret was what exporters are using: legally sanctioned methyl bromide, which is a lethal gas that’s not only dangerous to people but apparently also responsible for reducing the ozone layer.

Methyl bromide is prepared by the reaction of methanol with hydrobromic acid using sulfuric acid as a catalyst; it also develops biologically. Fumigation of our log exports amounts for 94% of our methyl bromide use.

Exporting at cost

This lethal gas has been long-approved by respective governments and is also used for fumigating containers in and out of the country. Before they had to recollect the gas, it was vented through a pipe out of the top of the containers, and it has been said that there of instances of where seagulls sitting on top have instantly died.

The current Government is now saying that to continue using methyl bromide, by the end of April 2021, the gas will need to be collected and reused or disposed of; at this stage, it would appear there has not been a lot of progress in this direction.

Our clean green New Zealand is one of five countries in the world still using this deadly gas. Why are we still pouring copious quantities chemicals such as 1080 and methyl bromide onto our land and why are we not fighting the use of it?

Currently, we’re so focused on COVID-19 and its consequences, but as a nation, our vision should be further. We should be taking huge steps to ban the use of all poisons harmful to people and the atmosphere.

Once again, there’s an alternative and how we can reduce the use of methyl bromide to almost zero. We just need to stop sending raw logs for export and process the timber into a finished product, as it does not require fumigation.

Methyl bromide is a heavier than air and an odourless and colourless gas, known to accumulate in poorly ventilated and low-lying areas. I question why safety monitoring does not come down hard on its use, especially when lung and nervous system damage resulting in death has been documented?

With the continued push for carbon neutrality and the option of expanding our pine forests, would this mean as we export more raw wood, the need to use fumigation will increase? That would surely result in more poison into the atmosphere, and I suspect that reduces our carbon neutrality status.

Wilding pines and the cost of their removal, pest control, and the use of poisons, with more and more push towards expanding our native habitat for our flora and fauna could increase the use of chemicals, which is not acceptable.

Pine plantations and clean-ups

A balanced plan for pine plantations, native planting, and sustainable logging and their effects on the environment needs to be put in place to prevent issues around slash-runoff during wet weather events.

The positive light over the last few weeks is that forest owners and associated parties have finally accepted blame for the damage caused to farms and beaches north of Gisborne and will fund the clean-up. This was a no-brainer and the locals must have struggled to understand why it took so long.

Pine Plantations

Nobody could have foreseen the consequences of planting pine plantations 100 years ago. It was the right thing to do to find a use for land that was not suitable for farming. It created work for those in the great depression and now forestry is one of our top three export earners.

We need to learn from mistakes made and develop environmentally friendly logging practices. The slash run-off from logging is rife across the country, causing many farmers headaches cleaning up the mess and fixing fences.

With so many unemployed out there and so much work available, surely the Government could help support the physical labour cleaning up the forestry mess that was created by the previous generation. Or perhaps they could form a pest control agency and employ people to control the pest problem and protect our environment.

It’s interesting how famers have been singled out as dirty polluter, but we still want their earnings coming into the coffers while pollution created by forestry is off the radar.

To achieve carbon neutrality with forestry, a sound business plan is required but that should also include the environmental consequences of that plan. 

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